Unexpected fate, p.13
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       Unexpected Fate, p.13

         Part #1 of Hope Town series by Harper Sloan
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  “Oh, my bad,” I laugh. “Sway called, huh?” I correctly guess. That man can’t help it. He hates seeing any of his girls upset.

  “He sure did. He also told me he would handle your next two clients and that I wasn’t supposed to bring you back until I’ve checked out the new sales at Lenox Mall. He also told me that, if you argue about missing work or upsetting clients or whatever of your ‘outrageously cockamamie’ excuses are, I’m supposed to tell you he has your father on speed dial and won’t hesitate to call him. ” Her smile is huge, her jade-colored eyes flashing with humor.

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  I peer over her shoulder and look at a smiling Sway. He gives me a wink before spinning on his heels and returning to his conversation with Don. God, he’s such a meddler.

  “Well, I guess, since the boss man has spoken, I have a free day to spend with you. ”

  She laughs softly. “Go ahead and do what you need to get ready, baby. I’m going to go bother Sway for a little while. ”

  “Stay away from the cameras, Mom. You know Daddy would shit himself if you ended up some weird, fake twist in the story line. Knowing how these idiots work, you would end up being Sway’s new lover and the reason that he is leaving his husband and daughter. Scandalous stuff. Just downright indecent!” I throw my hand over my chest and mock outrage.

  I make quick work of cleaning up my station and making sure I have everything together for tomorrow’s clients. Mom is still busy laughing and chatting with Sway when I walk up to the front desk. Don is nowhere to be seen, but Mark is standing next to one of their camera crew members with his arms crossed and a scowl firmly in place. I’m sure he’s pissed that I’m leaving in the middle of a film day. Well, what the hell ever. I know it’s childish, but I can’t stop myself before I stick my tongue out.

  I win this round.

  “God, I’m stuffed,” I laugh, pushing my plate of wings away from me before I can grab another one. This happens every single time Mom talks me into coming to Heavy’s, her favorite barbeque place in town. From the way Dad talks, she’s been hooked on this stuff like crack since before Nate was born.

  “Well, give it here. No sense in letting those wings go to waste. ”

  I laugh when she pulls the plate I just discarded in front of her and finishes it off in record time.

  “I have no idea how you stay so tiny. You should really be at least five hundred pounds. ”

  She looks up, her eyes shining. “That’s because I work out every night. ”

  “Yeah, right! I’ve never seen you step one foot in the gym . . . Oh. My. God. Don’t say anything else. Some things can’t be unheard, Mom!” Ugh! I do not want to think about how she works off all this damn food. Nope. Not thinking about it.

  “What?” she says in shock, but she still has that devilish smirk. “Your father bought me one of those stair thingies. ”

  “An elliptical?”


  “You don’t even know what it’s called! I bet it’s not even out of the box,” I laugh.

  She wipes her fingers off on the wet napkin and laughs at me. “Moving on, sweetheart. Why don’t you tell me what is going on with you? I called the house the other day and Lyn said you were out. I thought . . . Well, I thought that you and Cohen . . . I guess I’m just wondering what’s going on. ”

  “Why does everyone keep asking me what’s going on? I’m fine. I was a little upset—okay, a lot upset—when Cohen left, but I’m fine. Really. ”

  “Dani, you aren’t fine. ”

  I look at her—really look at her—and notice how concerned she looks. All the humor she held on her beautiful face is long gone and she’s looking at me like she can see right through me.

  I sigh. “I miss him, Mom. It really just is that simple. ”

  “I see. ”

  “I know we haven’t talked about it since Daddy freaked out, but are you really okay with this? Cohen and me?”

  She reaches out and takes the hand I was resting against the table. “Honey, I couldn’t be more thrilled. I only ask because you haven’t seemed like you’re handling this separation well, and trust me—I understand. ”

  I give her a sad smile because I know all about how well she did not handle the separation from my dad all those years ago.

  “It’s just . . . The girls mentioned that you haven’t been sleeping at the house, and even though I know it isn’t my business, I guess I’m just concerned and being nosy. ”

  One thing I love about my mom is that she is super easy to talk to. I know that, when I tell her that I’ve been sleeping over at Cohen’s apartment, she might not like the idea, knowing that Cohen doesn’t live alone, but if anyone will understand where my head is in all of this, it’s going to be her.

  “You promise not to tell Daddy? You will understand, but him? No, he most definitely will not. ”

  Her brow furrows, but she nods her head. I know she doesn’t like keeping things from him, but I hope she can keep this to herself.

  “I’ve been sleeping at Cohen’s place. ”

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  She doesn’t say a word.

  “In his bed. It’s just . . . Okay, I know this is going to sound insane, but there’s just something inside me that makes me have to be near him. I never imagined I would miss him this much, and being in his space, his bed, surrounded by his things . . . It just makes this emptiness I constantly feel a little easier to bear. ”

  “Oh, sweetheart. ” Her eyes start to water, and I know it’s only seconds before she turns on the waterworks.

  “Please don’t get upset. I really am okay. It’s just been a little of an adjustment. I haven’t been sleeping well, and it just all caught up on me this last month, but when I’m in his bed, I sleep like the dead. I swear it makes no sense. We had just come together and decided to take a try at a relationship. Our time was so limited before he left that it might as well have just been seconds. How is it possible to miss him so much?”

  She doesn’t waste a second. My chin starts to wobble a little, so she is instantly on my side of the booth and pulling me close to her.

  “You know about when your father left for his tour? I was a mess, Dani. Not just because of everything that happened after—losing my parents, our first child—even though those were enough to send me over the edge into the deep end. I was a mess because I didn’t have the one person who gives my heart a reason to beat. Don’t for one second downplay that feeling or its significance. Let me ask you this. If you think that you’re having a hard time without him, how do you think he’s handling everything? Do you think it would do him any favors to know that you’re suffering when he isn’t here?”

  “No, Mom, I don’t think it would. ” And honestly, it wouldn’t. If he knew how upset I was about his being gone—knowing that was one of the major reasons he didn’t want to start this between us—then it would do nothing but cause a distraction. “Of course he doesn’t know that, though, and doesn’t have a way of knowing how I’m doing. ”

  “My silly little girl. I’m sure you don’t realize this because this is really the first time you’ve loved someone with so much power behind it. When your other half is in pain, you always know. ”

  “How am I supposed to just not miss him?” I ask.

  “You aren’t supposed to stop missing him, Dani. But you can’t let that desire to have him near take over your life. You’re pushing away your friends, you aren’t coming to family dinners, and hell, you haven’t even talked to your father in a few days. Something that I promise you he hasn’t missed. You have to keep living your life, but living it in a way that you have that knowledge that he’s coming home to you and this separation isn’t forever. I lived twelve years thinking that I wouldn’t ever see your father’s face, Danielle. I know pain, and I know what it feels like when you feel like you have no hope left. These feelings you have aren’t even close. You and Cohen, darling girl . . . You two have been
fated from the beginning, and there isn’t a damn thing that could take that away from you. ”

  “What does that mean? We’ve been fated from the beginning?”

  She takes a deep, shuddering breath and lets it out on a whoosh. “Let me tell you a little story. One that I hoped I never had to tell you, but one I think will help you understand why I am certain this thing between you and Cohen is much bigger than you even understand. ”

  She takes the next thirty minutes to tell me all about her first marriage, one I knew she had but never ever knew the terrible details. Daddy doesn’t like to talk about him, her first husband, and now that I know the hell my mother lived through during those years, I completely understand.

  “You see, when I finally left my ex, I really didn’t think I had hope left, Dani. I had Dee in my life, and she probably would have been my savior for the rest of my days, but I still felt empty. Then, when we moved here, to Hope Town, that was when Greg came into our lives. He had known Dee for a while, and as you know, he served with your daddy. I always used to ask myself why God was so cruel to make me spend all of those years without your father, to take our first child away, and bring all of that pain. It wasn’t until years and years later, when I was sitting on the back porch during one of our family parties, that I realized what the big picture was. And let me tell you, I would have lived through all of that again if it would end in the same outcome. ”

  “I don’t understand,” I tell her.

  “Let me finish, sweetheart. ” She shifts in her seat and pulls something from her jacket pocket. “I took this that day. The sun was so beautiful that I just had to get a good shot of it. It was bouncing off the lake and outlining the dock and the trees around it, God, it was stunning. Here,” she says and holds something out to me.

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  I look down, not sure what to expect, and gasp. I don’t remember the moment. I was too young, but I recognize us instantly. She’s right. The picture outlines the dock and the trees surrounding their property line to perfection. It also highlights the two figures sitting at the very end of the dock. I must have been around six or seven in this picture. It was the year I convinced my mom it would be a brilliant idea to cut my long, thick hair to my chin. Cohen, even at eleven, was so much larger than my tiny frame. We’re sitting close, our heads touching temple to temple, and his scrawny arm is wrapped around my shoulders. I have no idea what we were doing or talking about, but it’s clear in that picture that there was something so loving about the two of us.

  “Even at a young age,” she continues, “he was always drawn to you. If you were hurt, he was there. When Nate was being . . . well, Nate, he was always around to make sure whatever upset you was fixed. And the same went for him. Even as a baby, if you knew he was around, your sweet, chubby face would light up. You and Cohen have been a long time coming, and I know that everything that has ever happened in the past was to make sure this moment, every moment since then until now, was going to happen. It’s fate, baby. I used to think it hated me, but I just realized that it works with the bigger picture. I never would have met Greg if it wouldn’t have been for everything I went through, but I also wouldn’t be able to be the mom you need—the one with the experience of what you’re going through—if I hadn’t lived it myself. ”

  “Oh, Mom,” I gasp and choke back the sob that so desperately wants to escape.

  “I guess my point is, you might not feel whole right now, and, sweetheart, I understand why, but you will soon. Fate won’t keep you two apart when it’s been so clear that together is where you’re meant to be. Hold strong and don’t let this pain of missing him make you push everyone else who loves you away. ”

  Clutching that picture to my chest, I let her words sink in and vow to do better at this whole “missing someone” business.

  AFTER ALL OF THE EMOTIONAL heaviness at lunch, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon shopping. Even though it’s a pastime I know my mother loathes to an extreme, she knows that it’s something I love. I didn’t realize how much I needed some mother/daughter time, and now that she’s opened up my eyes to how well she knows what I’m going through, it’s easier knowing that I have her to talk to about everything I’m feeling with Cohen being gone.

  The sun is starting to fall behind the trees by the time we make it back to the complex where Sway’s is located. Even with the late hour, the parking lot is far from empty.

  Mom pulls her car next to mine and gives me a big hug. “I want you to come to me if you start feeling down again, Dani. Don’t let it fester until you’re being dragged down with exhaustion. Miss your man, but don’t mourn someone who’s coming back to you. ”

  “Promise. I love you,” I respond, feeling lighter for the first time in weeks.

  I don’t think I realized how much I needed this. I just don’t feel like I can talk to the girls about this knowing that they’re missing their brother just as much as I am. Lee doesn’t understand even though I know he would try. And Chance is just . . . Chance.

  “I’m going to go and see your father before I head home. Do you want to come with me? I know he would love to see you. ”

  “I’ll be over in a little while. Let me drop all of these bags in my trunk and head in to tell Sway I’m going to take tomorrow off. I think I just need a mental day. One that’s away from those damn cameras. ”

  “All right, baby. ”

  She walks away, waving at Sway through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the salon and heading through the door to Corps Security, my dad’s company he co-owns with the rest of his buddies. It’s not lost on me that he probably loved it when I started working right next door so that he could keep his eyes on me.

  Absentmindedly, I walk behind my car and toss in the bags that hold the clothes I did not need to buy. My mind is still on the afternoon and everything my mom and I talked about. It isn’t until I step between the cars that I notice the piece of paper sticking out from the driver’s side door, flapping against the window with the light breeze.

  Reaching out, I snag the slim paper and look around. Shrugging off the feeling of being watched that crawls up my spine, I unfold the paper and almost lose my lunch.

  I must be screaming. That’s the only thing that makes sense, because not even seconds after my shocked and terrified hands dropped the note, I see my daddy, who is followed by Greg and Maddox, barreling through the door of his office and charging across the parking lot. Right as my head slams against the ground, I feel my body being lifted and cradled in his strong arms as he rushes away from that piece of paper, which is now being clutched between Greg’s fist as he and Maddox look between each other with trepidation written all over their faces.

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  “She’s going to the fucking hospital and that’s the end of the discussion, Izzy. You didn’t fucking see her, Izzy! Her head slammed against the ground, goddamn it!”

  Damn, my head hurts. I push myself up from the couch in my dad’s office and look around at the worried faces. My dad is crouched down on his knees in front of the couch, and my mom sitting on the armrest above where my head was just resting, her hand lying on his shoulder. I’m sure she is trying to calm him down. Maddox is leaning against the desk, and Greg is pacing the room.

  “I’m okay,” I say, but it comes out like a moan when my head starts to feel like it’s spinning. “I think. ”

  “See! She doesn’t even fucking know if she’s okay. Let’s go, little princess. Time to go see the doctor. ” He jumps to his feet and goes to grab me before my mom reaches out one slim hand to stop him.

  “Calm down, Ax. Let her speak for herself before you go crazy. ” She turns to me with concern etched on her face. “Sweetheart, is your head bothering you?”

  “A little. ” I stop and look up to Greg, the last person who saw the message. “Do you have it?” I ask him.

  “Yeah, baby girl. Don’t worry about a thing, okay?”

  A look I
don’t even attempt to process passes between him and my dad.

  “I think it might actually be a good idea to go get checked,” I moan. Then I lean over and lose my lunch all over my dad’s feet.

  Dad freaks out. He’s convinced that I’m broken and someone needs to fix me. My head is hurting more from his continual barking at the staff at the urgent care clinic. My mom just sits back and lets him do his thing. She told me a long time ago that she learned her lesson when it came to him. He’s going to over-parent and be protective to a point of annoyance and there just isn’t a damn thing that will change him.

  “Hello, Ms. Reid. I hear you took a nasty spill this afternoon,” the young doctor says when she stops in the room. She smiles sweetly at me before looking over and seeing my parents. Her face instantly goes hard. “Mr. Reid, I presume?” At his nod, she continues. “I hear you’ve been giving my staff a hard time today. ”

  I giggle, and Mom snorts a laugh out.

  “Hello, Dr. Webb,” I say after reading her jacket and effectively cutting my father off before he can start in on his rants. “It wasn’t that bad. Just a little bump when I hit the ground. Lingering headache. ”

  “Don’t forget you threw up, Dani. Remember. ”

  “Yeah, Daddy, I know. I was there. ” I roll my eyes and look up at the doctor.

  “That’s what they said. Your scans look fine, and aside from the contusion and obvious concussion, I would say you’re fine. I’m going to write you a prescription for some low-dose pain meds that will be safe to take in your condition. ”

  “Jeeze, Doc. You make it sound like I’m dying. ” I laugh and then wince when my head throbs.

  “Oh, I’m sorry. Bad habit I guess. I know pregnant woman don’t usually like us to refer to them as having a condition. ” She laughs, looking down at her chart, and doesn’t even notice that the room has gone electric.

  “I’m sorry?” I whisper. “What did you say?”

  She looks up, noticing my expression before looking over at my parents. I don’t know what she saw there since I’m absolutely terrified to look at my father.

  “Oh, I am so sorry. I didn’t realize. With your lab work and the date listed as your last menstrual cycle . . . I’m sorry. I just assumed. ”

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